Suicide and Disability

April 27, 2016

More and more attorneys I know have expressed concern about stress that citizens who are waiting for hearings and the determination on their claim for disability benefits feel. Every attorney I know either has personal knowledge of the desperation and powerlessness these individuals feel and many know of a suicide attempt or death by suicide that they relate directly or indirectly to the disability process.  Of course, many of these folks may have underlying mental conditions.  To be fair, SSA has “expedited” procedures in place for people who are actively suicidal, however, even the expedited process can take six months or more depending on the individual facts a case presents.

This conundrum was brought to the forefront of my mind when I recently read about a lawsuit blaming two suicides in Eastern Kentucky on a move to cut disability benefits.

For the full article, follow the link:

 

http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article55898210.html

With the backlog of hearings is over one million individuals awaiting hearings, ODAR has announced a program designed to reduce the waiting time for hearings from an average of 512 days to just 270 days.  Unfortunately, this plan, known as Compassionate and Responsive Services (CARES), is not currently projected to reach this goal until Fiscal Year 2020.  Additionally, the success depends on a variety of factors including Congressional funding.

Sadly, average processing times are expected to rise during the current Fiscal Year.

The Social Security Administration has announced that April 4th – 13th (weird, a ten day period beginning Monday and ending the following Wednesday) is “my Social Security Week”.   In celebration of this much anticipated event, SSA would like you to set up your my Social Security account.  Setting up an account will let you estimate your future benefits or, if you are receiving benefits, see information about the benefits you receive.

More information and the sign up links are here:

https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/

 

 

Many clients call me indicating they missed the date to file an appeal.  What they do not know is that there is a “good cause” exception which allows individuals to file an appeal late.  If a claimant satisfies the “good cause” standard due to a mental incapacity that prevented him or her from timely filing an appeal, it does not matter how much time has passed.  This would theoretically allow a client to request a review of an adverse decision from many years ago.

In determining whether a claimant lacks mental capacity, SSA will look at the following factors:

inability to read and write;

lack of facility with the English language;

limited education; and

any mental or physical condition that limits the claimant’s ability to do things for himself.

Note that reasonable doubt should be resolved in favor of the claimant.

Of course there are other good cause factors that could allow a person to file a request for review late, such as illness, extended hospitalizations, a death in family or a change of address, but these factors will likely be construed to allow a reasonable time frame in which to file an appeal.  The mental incapacity could allow appeals to be filed many months or years after the denial of benefits.

NOSSCR’s recent bulletin has an excellent and lengthy article on this issue.

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